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Illegal logging and displacement and killing of landless peasants in Colniza, Mato Grosso, Brazil


Description:

Gleba Taquaruçu do Norte is an agricultural settlement located in the municipality of Colniza in the northwest of Mato Grosso. The area was explored by gold prospectors in the 1980s and roads primarily opened by loggers. It remains isolated until today but is increasingly characterized by agrarian conflict and deforestation. Disputes between landless peasants, farmers and loggers have been ongoing for a longer time, escalating in the killing of landless peasants and the displacement of large parts of the community. [1][2] 

The first posseiros of Gleba Taquaruçu have arrived in 1996 and started to occupy land (as so-called posseiros). In 2002, a group of peasants set up a cooperative for sustainable familiar agriculture called ‘Cooperoosevelt’, claiming 42,715 hectares of land that were considered to be public for the ‘Assentamento Roosevelt’ (Roosevelt settlement). However, the settlement project was not part of Brazil’s official agrarian reform program. The cooperative later argued to have bought the land, while more than half of it became irregularly sold to privates by its former president. A small part of that remained revindicated by posseiros through a newly formed agricultural association and became the site of conflict in 2017. [3][4][5][6][7]

Aggressions started when loggers saw their practices of illegal timber extraction jeopardized by the increasing presence of peasants in the area. In 2004, armed militia invaded agricultural settlements, expulsed 185 families and destroyed plantations, claiming that the land belonged to farmers. In the following, peasants filed a lawsuit to register land in the name of Cooperoosevelt and achieved an injunction to maintain land tenure. Violence and insecurity however continued in the following years, so that the larger part of displaced posseiros did not return to the settlement. [3][5][6][8] Between 2006 and 2007, six peasants were reportedly killed by armed militia. Ten people became victims of torture and private imprisonment, supposedly ordered by farmers and loggers of the region. The president of Cooperoosevelt received death threats by gunmen who demanded a sum of R$ 35,000. Colniza repeatedly became number one in Brazil’s national ranking of the most violent municipalities. [3][6][7][9][[10] 

In 2007, a criminal network that illegally extracted high-value timber from public land was discovered and linked to the killings. The police operation ‘Ouro Verde’ (Green Gold) led to the arrest of 39 people, the confiscation of illegal arms and timber, and the detection of dead bodies of killed peasants. Among the allegedly involved companies was the Lagoa das Conchas sawmill, belonging to the former deputy Ubiratan Spinelli, as well as the Nova Estrela ranch. Both control land in proximity to the settlement and were accused of having coordinated groups of armed militia to terrorize and displace peasants from the contested area. [6][8][10] In the following, the area remained largely abandoned, but posseiros returned in mass in the year 2011, after a favorable decision by the Agrarian Court of Cuiabá, and the settlement became home to about 200 families of landless peasants. [5][11]

In 2014, two people - the president of a local rural workers association and partner – became assassinated two days after having denounced threats to the Ombudsman of INCRA, Brazil’s institute for agrarian reform. The crime remains unsolved and people in the district unwilling to talk about it. [1][9][10] In addition, eleven houses of posseiros were burned down by an armed group and people became displaced; one person was kidnapped. Upon returning months later, they were again violently attacked and forced to leave. [2][10][11] In 2015, police investigations detected that farmers of the region had set up a new network of armed militia that violently acted against the peasant community. [3] In 2016, further threats, displacements of families, land-grabbing, forest fires, illegal logging, deforestation, and illegal timber trade were reported. [10] 

In April 2017, nine peasants of Gleba Taquaruçu became assassinated in the contested area of ‘linha 15’, a dirt road along irregularly established agricultural lots claimed by both farmers and posseiros. The victims were posseiros, rural workers as well as one pastor and killed by a hired extermination group, reportedly also involving torture. More people became injured. [2][3][11][12][13]

The ‘Massacre of Colniza’, as it became known, was supposedly commanded by the powerful timber businessman Valdelir João de Souza, who remains fugitive but, through his defense attorney, claims to be innocent. [12][13][14][15] Souza is head of the timber companies Madeiras G.A and Cedroarana, operating from Machadinho D’Oeste (RO) and Colniza (MT) and exporting to Europe, the Unites States and Japan. [16] According to investigations of the platform ‘De Olho Nos Ruralistas’ and Greenpeace, Cedroarana continued to export high-value timber to Europe and the United States at a time when there was already an arrest warrant against Souza, who was accused of murder and formation of private militia. [10][14][16] Already previously, Greenpeace had exposed irregularities in timber extraction of the company, with fines dating back to 2007, which were however never paid. Souza had been multiple times detected or suspected to be involved in environmental crimes and violence against peasants in the region and, at the latest incident in 2015, had been fined R$ 1 million for illegal timber extraction by Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA. [14][16]

In the aftermath of the massacre, four men that were supposedly part of the contracted extermination group became arrested, including a former military police officer. [4][11] However, none of them went to trial and in 2019, some of them were about to become released for want of evidence, while authorities informed that the search for Souza was ongoing. [11][15] In addition, after a series of testimonies, also other landholders and loggers of the region became suspected to have been involved in the commanding of the massacre. A local prosecutor then considered new denunciations against several of them. [11] In November 2017, a witness disappeared after apparently having narrowly escaped a homicide attack in the town of Colniza, where the Public Ministry of Mato Grosso had started to conduct hearings and collect testimonies. Hearings of several witnesses were moved to Cuiabá for security reasons. [17] In 2018, another witness, timber businessman Alex Gimenes Garcia, became assassinated in the town of Ariquemes (RO), after testifying that loggers of the region had already known about the massacre plans 50 days before the crime. [11] Some community members who witnessed the massacre refused to testify, as they received death threats and feared to become the next targets. Hence, even though there were eyewitnesses of the massacre, the prosecution struggled to make them give testimonies. [18 In September 2019, the community of Gleba Taquaruçu was again the victim of attacks as armed militia entered settlements, burned down houses and threatened to kill families. [19] 

Thus the security situation in Gleba Taquaruçu remained tightened. Relatives of the victims reported to not have received any public assistance or protection and considered the massacre as a coordinated action to make posseiros leave the region. Indeed, most of the initially 200 families left the area after the massacre in despair and fear, and as of 2019, only 20 families continued to live in Gleba Taquaruçu. The remaining community is largely isolated and unprotected by the state, without access to health services, schooling, electricity or a telephone network, and with their daily life regularly disrupted by violence. Malaria spread. Those peasants who left, on the other hand, have lost the land they had worked on for years, often spending their entire savings in the hope to live from subsistence farming. [2][11][13][14][20][21]

Peasant organizations such as the Movimento dos Sem-Terra (MST) and Federação dos Trabalhadores da Agricultura (Fetagrii-MT) condemned the violence and the lack of action by public authorities, which, as MST argued, have rather incentivized land grabbing by recent government bills such as MP 759 and the prevailing sensation of impunity. [1] Also other civil society organizations such as the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), the lawyers organization OAB and Greenpeace in public notes considered the violence and threats against posseiros in Gleba Taquaruçu as emblematic for the spiral of violence, land grabbing and deforestation, manifesting in numerous conflicts in the region (which also includes, among others, longstanding violent land conflicts around Fazenda Magali and Gleba Terra Roxa). In fact, frontiers of deforestation in the north of Mato Grosso are particularly driven by logging and cattle ranching, and to a smaller but increasing extent mining, following pressure from increasing expansion of the soy industry further in the south. [9][14][16][22]

Mato Grosso accounted for about 20 percent of all deforestation in Brazil’s legal Amazon between 2012 and 2017 – an annual area of about 1,000 km2. Between August 2016 and July 2017, 89 percent of all deforestation in the state was illegal, according to an analysis of Instituto Centro de Vida. Deforestation levels are particularly concerning in the northwest, with Colniza showing the highest rates of all municipalities – two-thirds of that in areas of unclear land tenure. [23] Illegal timber extracted in municipalities such as Colniza and Machadinho D’Oeste are organized by criminal networks that use violence and fraudulent timber certification schemes, circumventing regulations in various ways. This typically goes along with the super-estimation of particularly valuable trees – such as ipê, cedar, and maçaranduba – in an area with deforestation permits, creating additional certificates for illegally extracted trees in other areas. [10][14]

As of 2017, the CPT counted a total of 1,295 land conflicts in Brazil, the highest number since records began. The massacre of Colniza marked the beginning of a series of agrarian violence, as across Brazil 71 rural assassinations were registered just in the year 2017 – the highest number since 2003. Moreover, according to CPT, just the State of Mato Grosso accounted for 136 assassinations in agrarian conflicts between 1985 and 2018, which can be largely attributed to the powerful influence of the agribusiness sector, loggers and miners. These lobbies also enact influence over public authorities, fostering a sensation of impunity that is common to most registered cases. That does not only legitimize violence but also creates fear among the affected communities, who – as in the case of Taquaruçu – often do not even dare to denounce atrocities against them. According to a representative of the CPT, the situation worsened especially after the coup of 2016, as since then, institutional and popular aggression and threats against vulnerable social groups have drastically increased, while ecological agrarian reforms and redistribution of land are off the government agenda. [9][12]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Illegal logging and displacement and killing of landless peasants in Colniza, Mato Grosso, Brazil
Country:Brazil
State or province:Mato Grosso
Location of conflict:Gleba Taquaruçu do Norte / Colniza
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Mineral ore exploration
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Land
Soybeans
Meat
Timber
Gold

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Gleba Taquaruçu do Norte is located in the district of Guariba at the northern end of Mato Grosso, at the border with Amazonas and Rondônia, about 230 km from the town of Colniza and 1,065 km from Cuiabá. The area is isolated and only accessible via a dirt road that is in poor condition, leading from kilometer 170 of the Tin Highway through dense forest, and is claimed by the rural workers cooperative ‘Cooperoosevelt’ as agricultural settlement (Assentament Roosevelt – Gleba Taquaruçu). [2][3][13]

The occupied land of about 20,000 hectares has been distributed to at least 120 families of posseiros organized in a rural workers association, through which they have claimed land titles. The originally occupied area was of 42,715 hectares (or even 47,000 ha according to other sources), but more than half of the area became irregularly sold by a former president of Cooperoosevelt, who then fled with the payment earned from the controversial sale. That included an inaccessible area of about 3,600 hectares along the linha 15’ road, which has been particularly contested and claimed by both farmers of the region and posseiros, who revindicate parts of the lost land through a newly formed agricultural association. [2][4][5][6][7]

For a long time, loggers and posseiros likewise made a living from illegally selling noble trees, which have however become increasingly scarce. Today the community lives from small-scale farming of products such as café, banana, cacau, corn, rice and papaya, as well as from hunting. While parts of them claim land as posseiros and have assigned agricultural lots, there are also those who came as laborers and earn between 55 and 150 R$ a day. [2]

Timber from the conflict area of Taquaruçu do Norte has been reportedly sold to the United States by the company Cedroarana, owned by Valdelir Souza, the principal suspect of the 2017 massacre. Timber was among others shipped via Colombia to the US port of Savannah (State of Georgia), where it was imported by the company Tiger Deck. Souza operates in Machadinho D’Oeste (Rondônia) and Colniza (Mato Grosso). [14]

Project area: 42,715
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:~ 200 families
Start of the conflict:2004
Company names or state enterprises:Lagoa das Conchas from Brazil - sawmill allegedly involved in illegal logging in Taquaruçu
Tiger Deck from United States of America - imports conflict timber from Brazil
Cedroarana from Brazil - internationally exports conflict timber
Relevant government actors:Secretaria de Estado de Segurança Pública (Sesp-MT)
Instituto Terras de Mato Grosso
IBAMA
INCRA
Public Ministry
Agrarian Court of Cuiabá
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Cooperativa Agrícola Mista de Produção Roosevelt (Cooperoosevelt)
Associação de Pequenos Produtores Rurais de Taquaruçu do Norte
Associação de Produtores Rurais Nova União
Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Greenpeace
Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB/MT)
Movimento dos Sem-Terra (MST)
Trabalhadores da Agricultura (Fetagrii-MT)
Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Migration/displacement
Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Landless peasants and supportive organizations demand land titles and the right for communities to live from sustainable, small-scale agriculture, opposing a capitalist-extractivist model of agriculture that leads to violence and environmental destruction.

Instituto Centro de Vida, whose analysis of recent deforestation rates presented a devastating picture particularly for the northeast of Mato Grosso, gives three policy recommendations: 1. Intensify monitoring and surveillance, especially to detect large-scale deforestation in the northeast. 2. Improvements in land registers and implementation of respective regulations of the Forest Code. 3. Transparency in providing environmental monitoring to the public.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the landless peasants in 2004 have temporarily achieved the right to stay and use the land, the struggle is ongoing and overshadowed by forced displacements and violent killings.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] Maissonave, F. (2017): Chacina em Mato Grosso foi precedida por episódios violentos registrados. Folha de S. Paulo, 30.04.2017.
https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2017/04/1879884-chacina-em-mato-grosso-foi-precedida-por-episodios-violentos-registrados.shtml

[1] Lessa, F.; Tomazela, J. (2017): Vítimas de chacina em Mato Grosso foram assassinadas com tiros e golpes de facão. O Estado de S. Paulo, 22.04.2017.
https://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,vitimas-de-massacre-no-mato-grosso-sao-assassinadas-com-golpes-de-facao,70001748090

[5] Maissonave, F. (2017): Área de chacina no Mato Grosso tem indefinição fundiária. Folha de S.Paulo, 30.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2017/04/1879887-area-de-chacina-no-mato-grosso-tem-indefinicao-fundiaria.shtml

[6] GazetaDigital (2010): Mortes e insegurança dominam área rural de Colniza há 6 anos. 27.06.2010. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://www.gazetadigital.com.br/editorias/cidades/mortes-e-inseguranca-dominam-area-rural-de-colniza-ha-6-anos/244194

[7] SóNotícias (2007): Confirmados 24 presos por homicídio e cárcere privado em Colniza. 29.08.2007. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://www.sonoticias.com.br/policia/confirmados-24-presos-por-homicidio-e-carcere-privado-em-colniza/

[12] Dulce, E. (2018): Massacre de Colniza, no Mato Grosso, segue impune há mais de um ano. Brasil de Fato, 26.04.2018. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2018/04/26/massacre-de-colniza-no-mato-grosso-segue-impune-ha-mais-de-um-ano/

[22] Lessa, F. (2017): Quatro homens foram os autores da chacina em MT; vítimas sofreram tortura.

O Estado de S. Paulo, 23.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/agencia-estado/2017/04/23/policia-ja-sabe-que-sao-quatro-os-autores-da-chacina-em-colniza-mt.htm

[8] Souza, A., Holland, C., Soares, D. (2017): Cinco trabalhadores foram mortos há 11 anos em área de chacina em Colniza (MT). G1, 26.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://g1.globo.com/mato-grosso/noticia/cinco-assentados-foram-mortos-ha-11-anos-em-area-de-chacina-em-colniza-mt.ghtml

[9] Montesanti, B. (2017): A chacina de Mato Grosso e os números da violência rural no país. Nexo Jornal, 25.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2017/04/24/A-chacina-de-Mato-Grosso-e-os-n%C3%BAmeros-da-viol%C3%AAncia-rural-no-pa%C3%ADs

[13] Anjos, L. (2017): Nove assassinados em área rural de MT apresentam sinais de tortura, diz perícia. G1, 22.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://g1.globo.com/mato-grosso/noticia/nove-assassinados-em-area-rural-de-mt-apresentam-sinais-de-tortura-diz-pericia.ghtml

[1] Lessa, F.; Tomazela, J. (2017): Vítimas de chacina em Mato Grosso foram assassinadas com tiros e golpes de facão. O Estado de S. Paulo, 22.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,vitimas-de-massacre-no-mato-grosso-sao-assassinadas-com-golpes-de-facao,70001748090

[2] Maissonave, F. (2017): Chacina em Mato Grosso foi precedida por episódios violentos registrados. Folha de S. Paulo, 30.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2017/04/1879884-chacina-em-mato-grosso-foi-precedida-por-episodios-violentos-registrados.shtml

[14] Castilho, A., Sanchez, I. (2017): Suspeito de articular massacre em Colniza exporta, foragido, madeira para os EUA. De Olho Nos Ruralistas, 07.11.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.12.2019)
https://deolhonosruralistas.com.br/2017/07/11/suspeito-de-articular-massacre-em-colniza-exporta-foragido-madeira-para-os-eua/

[15] G1 (2019): MP pede à Justiça júri popular de mandante e executor de chacina ocorrida há 2 anos em Colniza (MT). 10.04.2019. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://g1.globo.com/mt/mato-grosso/noticia/2019/04/10/mp-pede-a-justica-juri-popular-de-mandante-e-executor-de-chacina-ocorrida-ha-2-anos-em-colniza-mt.ghtml

[16] Araújo, P. (2017): Madeireiras de acusado de ser o mandante de chacina em Colniza (MT) continuam funcionando a pleno vapor, diz ONG. G1, 23.11.2017. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://g1.globo.com/mt/mato-grosso/noticia/madeireiras-de-acusado-de-ser-o-mandante-de-chacina-em-colniza-mt-continuam-funcionando-a-pleno-vapor-diz-ong.ghtml

[17] Maissonave, F. (2018): Testemunha de massacre em MT relatou atentado, afirma Promotoria. Folha de S.Paulo, 31.08.2018. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2018/01/1954869-testemunha-de-massacre-em-mt-relatou-atentado-afirma-promotoria.shtml

[18] G1 (2018): Chacina em Colniza completa um ano e suposto mandante está foragido. 10.04.2018.
http://g1.globo.com/jornal-nacional/noticia/2018/04/chacina-em-colniza-completa-um-ano-e-suposto-mandante-esta-foragido.html

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[21] G1 (2017): Famílias de sem-terra deixam vilarejo de MT onde chacina matou nove. 23.04.2017. (Online, last accessed: 26.12.2019)
http://g1.globo.com/fantastico/noticia/2017/04/familias-de-sem-terra-deixam-vilarejo-de-mt-onde-chacina-matou-nove.html?utm_campaign=a_nexo_2017424&utm_medium=email&utm_source=RD+Station

Other documents

Abandoned houses after the 2017 massacre (Adriano Vizoni, Folhapress)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/4143/Adriano_Vizoni_Folhapress__abandoned_house_after_massacre_2017

The 'linha 15' settlement in Gleba Taquaruçu became attacked in 2017, nine peasants were killed (TVCA)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/4143/land_2017_-_tvca

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update23/03/2020

Images

 

Homes of posseiros before the displacement

(Midia Ninja)

Gleba Taquaruçu remains isolated in a still widely forested region

(Harlis Barbosa)

Burned down houses in 2019

(G1)

Location of Gleba Taquaruçu

(Pauta Extra)

Foci of deforestation in Mato Grosso in 2017

(Prodes-Inpe)

Timber from Gleba Taquaruçu is being exported internationally (e.g. Savannah in Georgia, US)

(De Olho Nos Ruralistas)

Graphic showing the correlation between deforestation and rural homicides

(IGBE, MMA, CPT)